Perceived as an alternative trend against fast fashion, ‘sustainable fashion’ or ‘eco-friendly’ fashion is the fastest growing design philosophy and trend across the globe today. The goal here is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and so-cial responsibility.
The birth of sustainable fashion dates way back to the 1940s, during World War II, when a ration-ing policy was implemented. The journey of sustainable fashion took a few decades to become a global phenomenon. By the late 1980s, early 1990s, the world experienced the coming of age of sustainable fashion with well-known companies such as Patagonia and Esprit embracing sustaina-bility as a part of their business.
Scientists, academicians, actors and musicians – everyone who’s a part of modern society in India and the world today – agree that espousing sustainable ways is the only way in which the planet can be saved, as can the human race. This includes everything from production to consumption of mostly everything fashion-related we use in our day to day life including clothes and textiles, shoes and accessories.
The Fast Fashion Industry
One of the world’s most polluting industries, second only to oil, fast fashion had been an environ-mental curse to Planet Earth. To countermand the effects of fast fashion, virtually all major clothing, lifestyle and large scale manufacturing companies as well as retail giants are working towards sustainable fashion not only in the production phase but also after a garment has been sold, encouraging the end user to ‘re-use and recycle’.
Fashion and lifestyle companies see sustainability as a major CSR activity, so much so that bigger companies have even created the post of ‘sustainability head’. These sustainability professionals focus on creating a sustainability centric eco-system within the organisation and beyond. They use the R4 Compass to measure success – Recycle, Repair, Remake and Reuse. Despite this widening obsession over eco-friendly fashion, a definition of the customer’s understanding of sustainability is not easily available.
However, notwithstanding customer understanding and taking into account various visible impacts of sustainability on environment, health and socioeconomic aspects, there is an apparent improve-ment at all stages of the product’s life cycle starting from design and development to the final end user.
A survey has shown that 68 percent of the Indian population shop every month for clothes. Tops / shirts / upper wear comprise nearly of 88 percent of the clothing bought, making it apparent that post-consumer apparel waste mostly consists of upper wear for the 20 to 30 year old target audi-ence.
The survey also reveals that a few decades ago, most of the clothing that was recycled in Indian homes consisted of sarees, dupattas and dhotis, which could be converted to other products like bags, blankets, cushion covers, curtains, etc. quite easily.
The survey concludes that an organised channel of recycling needs to be developed by private labels and brands in India to prevent clothing from being discarded as waste and to encourage efficient recycling of post-consumer apparel.
The matter is quite evident that sustainable fashion is not about producing clothes, shoes and acces-sories in environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manner; but it has an equal role per-taining to shifts in end users attitudes and behavior which should eventually lead us to be a strong opponents of fast fashion and be ‘responsibly fashionable’ instead.
Impact of Sustainable Fashion:
– Extensive use of natural fiber which has a suitable impact on human skin.
– Natural fiber means zero health hazards.
– Increase the value of local production and products.
– Prolong lifecycle of materials.
– Increase value of timeless garments.
– Reduce the amount of waste and reduce the harm to the environment.
– Employment generation.
– Lifestyle development of weavers and others.
Sustainability Vs Price Sensitivity
Sustainable fashion matches the philosophies of “slow fashion”, a fashion production which is lo-cally embedded, slow in terms of production cycles, with a quantity of produced goods that corresponds to demand and without overproduction. It utilises eco-friendly and qualitative materials, yet it is not cheap, the idea being to stimulate prolonged use of the clothing.
However, when the aware and responsible end user decides to revamp his respective wardrobe with products labelled ‘sustainable’, his budget gets disturbed and his
pocket size shrinks.
One way to weave cost effectiveness into sustainable fashion is by ‘recycling & up-cycling’
– Recycled or reclaimed fibers are made from scraps of fabrics collected from clothing facto-ries, which are processed back into short fibres for spinning into a new yarn. There are only a few facilities globally that are able to process the clippings.
– Up-cycling is a form of recycling, which refers to the reuse of material for the purpose of waste reduction. Upcycled fibers are made from materials that are not originally used to make fibers.
While up-cycled and recycled products are relatively budgetfriendly, the industry still needs to an-swer the question: why is ethical more expensive?
Despite this, awareness pertaining to sustainable product is growing at a fast pace. In fast growing economies like India, issues related to environmental problems have led the government to promote and practice and also force green awareness through implementation of systems and processes.
Research also indicates that as part of the environmental practice, in the Unites States, 55 percent of consumers are on reducing consumption of goods made and 65 percent uses recycled apparels / home textile etc. In the United Kingdom, 61 percent are reducing consumption and 73 percent are using recycled apparel. However, better awareness and acceptance is found in countries like India/ Mexico and China where 78 and 79 percent are practicing reducing consumption of goods and recy-cled clothing and home textile respectively.
According to the research, the most fast fashion popular sellers of the world are Uniqlo (21 percent), H&M and Zara (18 percent), US Gen Z Shoppers (16 percent), Millennial (11 percent), Gen X-ers (2 percent) and Boomers (1 percent). On the other hand, when country-wise market share of fast fashion is considered, the USA ranks number one; 88 percent people in United States like to use fast fashion, 49 percent of Italian prefer fast fashion, 46 percent of Europeans’, 27 percent of Mexicans’, 25 percent of Indian and 21 percent of Chinese.
China, India, and Mexico are more concern about the environment than Europe, Italy and USA. United States is a nation of self-interest; they never care about the environment so that the US consumers are showing lowest interest to buy sustainable apparel than other countries like the UK.
Now-a-days when sustainable fashion is becoming a major issue in the fashion market, the use of natural fi bers like cotton, wool and silk is increasing and playing an important role in countries like India (89 percent), Mexico (84 percent), Italy (83 percent), China (73 percent) and Germany (70 percent) fashion market. This percentage and awareness will be increased day by day to make a sus-tainable greener world for the fashion lovers.
As per suggestions found in different press releases, the Indian apparel market and its growth is valued at $40 billion and estimated to grow to a $124 billion market by 2020. Factors found con-tributing towards the rapid growth are:
1. Modern Indian socio-economic development.
2. Empowered, financially independent women
3. Lifestyle changes and the nuclear family
4. Modern retail and the availability of global brands
5. Rising income and the growth in disposable income
6. Global fashion awareness
In the recent past, India has be experiencing an extensive growth in demand for organic apparel and sustainable fashion which is believed to contribute approx 5 percent of the total apparel business. Keeping that in mind and the suggested future of the same, many national and international apparel manufacturers like, Raymond, Levi’s, Arrow, United Colors of Benetton, Wills Lifestyle etc have put in place a strong product line and a team to address the subject of sustainability.
Five Mega Trends Shaping Sustainable Fashion
Creating fashion for a growing population, while decreasing its impact on the environment is not an easy challenge. The need for advancement of circular, sustainable fashion has never been stronger in addressing the urgent environmental challenges the world is facing today.
1. Impact of Nature – Making garments and home textiles from everything nature has to offer, e.g. from pineapple waste to water hyacinth. A new textile out of the waste of a fruit or water hyacinth production, instead of growing a dedicated crop like cotton or bamboo is a good sustainable material.
The yarn produced from the by-products can be used to create different types of textiles, from making dresses to shirts or scarves. Sustainability Impact: Such products are resource-effi cient and environment friendly. Decomposi-tion takes much lesser time compared to synthetic material. It is time to reuse and release the power of nature.
2. Rent-a-Closet – Collaborative eco-systems, sharing, renting, reusing, platform, leasing, subscription, borrowing, lending, common garments – all of these are some of the best mediums which can contribute to-wards green fashion and they are also pocket friendly.
Sustainability Impact: Increased utilisation rate of each clothing item will eliminate waste capacity in the clothing industry. With multiple owners of each clothing item, the need for buying new clothes decreases and you don’t waste clothing life-cycles. There is also a decreased need to buy new clothes for every new occasion or trend, minimising what gets thrown away.
3. Long Product Life – Repair, lifecycle expansion, redesign, resell, second hand, previously owned, marketplace, fl ea market, street sale, restyle are some of the best ways of prolonging a garment’s life span. The best way to explore your own creativity is to make your own fashion statement and yet remain cost ef-fective and pocket friendly.
Sustainability Impact: Repairing an old clothing item instead of producing a new one is less re-source consuming.
4. Innovative Recycling – Recycling, collect, recover, embedded value, waste, regain, reclaim, extract, decompose, garbage, by-products, salvage, reprocess are great ways of recycling. A new method where microbes eat pol-yester and break it down into its most basic substances has also emerged. The raw material broken down by the microbes can then be sold to polyester manufacturers that use them to produce new textiles. Sustainability Impact: With more efficient methods of collecting old clothes, larger volumes will be collected, resulting in more value being brought back to the system. With more efficient methods of capturing embedded values in the recycling process, more value will be brought back to the sys-tem from each clothing item.
5. Handloom & Natural Dye as Sustainable Fashion – The Handloom Sector forms a significant part of the textile industry for two reasons. Firstly, with such a widespread area of activity around the country, it employs weavers from extremely diverse parts. It supports as many as 43 lakh (4.3 million) weavers in rural, semi-urban and urban areas. Secondly, it contributes significantly to Indian textile exports and produces nearly 15 percent of all cloth produced in the country (Textile Ministry, 2015). The handloom industry has sustained itself, with difficulty indeed, despite the existence of textile giants in India.
Handlooms in India and rest of the world have faced tough competition from the power loom and organised mill sector, due to high costs of productions, slower production and a substantial decrease in market demand due to change of preferences of the consumers.
Yet, with government interventions since independence, the handloom industry in India still is able to produce enough cloth to meet domestic and interna-tional demand. Today India provides 95 percent of all handlooms available in the world (Textile Ministry data, 2015-2016). Silk / Cotton / Linen / Wool / Hemp etc are all easy to weave and highly fashionable. Other then agriculture, handloom stands next as the undefined economic trade and contributes accountably towards the livelihood of the rural and semi rural population In India. Handloom weaving constitutes to Indian cultural heritage and are considered as premium fashion genre.
Sustainability Impact: Creation has to go hand in hand with social justice and Handloom is de-signed to lead the socio-economic revolution. So by nature it is always sustainable. Handloom Tex-tile industry is low capital demanding for start ups, minimal use of power, 100 percent eco-friendly, production adaptability as per market requirements, home grown, employment generating etc.
Understanding the subject of sustainability and its impact is still emerging in India because we are still experimenting and learning, not only about fashion; but into almost all the industries as on date. As ‘responsibly fashionable’ and aware citizens we should follow slow fashion cycles, opt for nat-ural fibers and dyes and commit ourselves to ethically right manufacturing processes. Corporates need to step up and take sustainability beyond classes to the masses.